Four past Midnight
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Rob Wood-Stansbury|
|September 24, 1990|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Four Past Midnight is a collection of novellas by Stephen King. It is his second book of this type, the first one being Different Seasons. The collection won the Bram Stoker Award in 1990 for Best Collection and was nominated for a Locus Award in 1991. In the introduction, King says that, while a collection of four novellas like Different Seasons, this book is more strictly horror with elements of the supernatural.
The four novellas contained in the collection are described here:
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On a cross-country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston, ten passengers awaken to find that the crew and most of their fellow passengers have disappeared, leaving the airliner under the control of the autopilot. They realise that only those who were sleeping are now left on the plane. Off-duty airline pilot Brian Engle takes control from the autopilot and lands the plane in Bangor, Maine despite protests from the irritable Craig Toomy, who is obsessed with going to Boston.
Upon arrival, they find the airport abandoned with no signs of life. Hearing an approaching sound like radio static, the group agrees to leave before it arrives. Based on the belief that they have flown through a "time rip" into the past and that flying back into the rip will return them to their own time, the passengers work together to refuel the plane as the noise gets louder. Having lost touch with reality, Craig believes the others to be manifestations of the Langoliers, monsters his now-deceased father described when Craig was a child, chasing and devouring those who are lazy and waste time. He stabs Dinah, a young blind girl with psychic powers, and kills Don Gaffey, before being subdued. Dinah insists that Craig must not be killed as the group needs him alive.
While the plane is in its final preparations to depart Bangor, Dinah telepathically communicates with Craig and persuades him that an important board meeting is being held on the runway. Craig hallucinates arriving at the meeting and even confronts his fear of disappointing his father. Then hundreds of monsters arrive, floating spheres with chainsaw-like teeth, which leave trails of black nothingness in their wake. They initially head for the plane, but Craig's presence on the runway (which also results in them erasing Craig) distracts them long enough to allow Engle to start the plane. As they turn to the west, the passengers watch the rest of the land below falling into a formless, black void.
Bob proposes the idea that the Langoliers' purpose is to clean up what's left of the past by eating it. Dinah succumbs to her injuries and the other characters realise that the trip through the rip has allowed them to come to terms with their regrets. Because they need to be asleep to survive the rip again, another passenger, Nick Hopewell, volunteers to fly the plane through, knowing that this will cost him his life. The cabin pressure is decreased, and everyone falls into a deep sleep, except for Nick, who is wearing an emergency oxygen mask. He flies through the rip and disappears.
The survivors awaken, unharmed except for nosebleeds caused by the drop in air pressure. Seemingly, nothing has changed. The plane lands in a deserted Los Angeles. Concluding that now the time rift has brought them a short distance into the future, the group takes shelter against a wall to avoid the airport's human traffic. A flash hits them and they find themselves in the present again.
Television film adaptation
The Langoliers was adapted for a two-part TV movie in 1995. The TV movie stars Kate Maberly, Kimber Riddle, Patricia Wettig, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Christopher Collet, and Bronson Pinchot.
The movie version of The Langoliers, produced for broadcast on ABC-TV, was filmed almost exclusively in and around the Bangor International Airport in Bangor, Maine (where author Stephen King attended college) during the summer of 1995. King himself, echoing Alfred Hitchcock's famous numerous cameos, made a cameo appearance in the film as Craig Toomy's boss during Toomy's hallucination.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
|"Secret Window, Secret Garden"|
Secret Window, Secret Garden is similar to King's earlier novel The Dark Half. Both are about authors who are thinly veiled analogues of King himself—Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half and Mort Rainey in Secret Window, Secret Garden.
Mort Rainey is a successful novelist in Maine. One day, he is confronted by a man from Mississippi named John Shooter who claims Mort plagiarized a story he wrote. Mort vehemently denies ever plagiarizing anything. Shooter leaves, but not before leaving his manuscript, "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Mort throws the manuscript into the trash can. When Mort's housemaid recovers the manuscript-—thinking it belongs to Mort—-he finally reads Shooter's story, discovering that it is almost identical to his short story "Sowing Season." The only differences are the title, the character's name, the diction, and the ending. Mort is disturbed by these findings.
Shooter returns a few days later. Having learned that "Sowing Season" was published two years before Shooter claimed to have written "Secret Window, Secret Garden," Mort confronts Shooter with this information. An enraged Shooter accuses Mort of lying and demands proof, giving Mort three days to show him his published story. Overnight, he kills Mort's cat and burns down the house of Mort's ex-wife, which contained the magazine issue in which "Sowing Season" was published. Mort orders a new copy of the magazine. He also asks his caretaker Greg Carstairs to tail Shooter and to talk to a man named Tom Greenleaf, who drove past Mort and Shooter. Shooter, angry that Mort has involved other people in their business, kills both men and plants evidence framing Mort for the murders. Upon receiving the magazine and returning home, Mort finds that "Sowing Season" has been removed.
Mort realizes that John Shooter is really his own split personality. Mort had created "Shooter" out of guilt for stealing a story early in his career titled "Crowfoot Mile" and had recently been suspected of another act of plagiarism, although he was innocent the second time. Tom had not seen Shooter while driving by—-he saw Mort, by himself. Mort realizes he burned down his own home, killed his own cat, and murdered two people. He blacks out. Fifteen minutes later he awakens, only to hear who he believes to be Shooter pulling into his driveway. Desperate for any sign of his own sanity, he rushes outside only to find his ex-wife, Amy. Devastated, he loses control of his body and mind to Shooter. Amy discovers that Mort has gone insane, having written the word "Shooter" all over the house. She goes to Mort's study, where "Shooter" attempts to kill her in an ambush. She manages to escape. "Shooter," chasing Amy outside, is shot by her insurance agent. Mort becomes himself again, addresses Amy, and dies.
Later, Amy and Ted Milner-—a man she had an affair with before divorcing Mort-—discuss her ex-husband's motives. She insists that Mort had become two people, one of them a character so vivid it became real. She then recalls something Tom witnessed--when he drove past Mort alone, he saw Shooter and Mort in his rear view mirror, but Shooter was transparent. Amy then reveals that while digging through Mort's house, she found Shooter's trademark hat. She left it right-side up on a trash bag. When she returned, she found a note from Shooter inside the overturned hat, revealing that he has traveled back to Mississippi with the story he came for, "Crowfoot Mile." Amy remarks that Mort had created a character so vivid, he actually came to life.
A film adaptation called Secret Window was made, starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton. The storyline of the movie differs from that of the novel, most notably in their respective endings. In the movie, Mort kills his wife and her lover, while in the novel he is killed before he has a chance to do so. In the movie, after months it is shown that Mort grew corn in his wife's garden, where it is implied that he buried her and her lover, thus removing any proof that he murdered them. Another difference is the titles of the short stories: in the movie, Mort Rainey wrote a story called "Secret Window" and John Shooter wrote "Sowing Season." The story in the movie version is set in upstate New York instead of Maine.
King has been the subject of unfounded accusations of plagiarism. A woman claimed that King stole several of her story ideas and based characters from his books on her. All of her cases have been dismissed. In another incident, a deranged man broke into King's home, and when discovered by King's wife, claimed that King stole the plot of Misery from the intruder's aunt and that he had a bomb in the shoebox he was holding and was going to blow up the house. The fake bomb was made of pencils with paperclips wrapped around the erasers.
The Library Policeman
|"The Library Policeman"|
The Library Policeman tells of Sam Peebles and his battle against an age-old fear.
Peebles is asked to give a speech to the Rotary Team. An office assistant (Naomi Higgins) directs him to the public library to check out books that might help with his speechwriting. At the library, he receives a library card and assistance in finding books from an elderly librarian, Ardelia Lortz. Having noticed a series of disturbing posters in the children's section, including one featuring a frightening "Library Policeman" character, he discusses their appropriateness with Ardelia. After being rebuffed by her, Sam checks out the books with the warning that they must be returned on time or else "I'll have to send the Library Policeman after you."
The speech is a success, but Naomi informs Sam that Ardelia Lortz has been dead for many years. Ardelia, as a young woman, committed suicide in 1960 after murdering two children and a local deputy sheriff. The books are accidentally destroyed and a menacing Library Policeman terrorizes Sam at his house. Through Naomi, Sam meets Dave "Dirty Dave" Duncan, an alcoholic former sign painter and a former lover of Ardelia's. From Dave's recollections, Sam discovers that Ardelia is not a person but a being which feeds on fear and that Duncan was a sometimes unwilling companion/conspirator in helping her feed from the fear of children. Dave believes Ardelia is seeking revenge and a new host. While the trio attempt to stop Ardelia's resurrection, Sam recalls a repressed memory: a man claiming to be a "Library Policeman" raped and threatened Sam when he was a young child in St. Louis. However, the new Library Policeman is not just a recreation of the man from Sam's past, but also an embodiment of Ardelia, who wants Sam as her new host.
Dave dies defending Sam and Naomi from Ardelia. Sam and Naomi defeat the Library Policeman/Ardelia, only to discover that Ardelia has already attached to Naomi in the form of a blistery growth, "covered in a spiderweb skein of crisscrossing white threads ... a lump of pinkish jelly that throbbed and pulsed with the beat of her heart." Sam removes the creature from Naomi's neck and destroys it under the wheels of a passing train.
The Sun Dog
|"The Sun Dog"|
A Polaroid Sun 660
Kevin Delevan receives a Sun 660 Polaroid camera for his fifteenth birthday. He discovers that there is something strange about the camera: the only pictures it produces are of a malicious black dog which seems to move closer with each shot as though to attack the photographer. On a recommendation, Kevin seeks help from Reginald "Pop" Merrill, the wealthy and unscrupulous owner of a junk shop in the town of Castle Rock, Maine. While just as unsettled by the phenomenon as Kevin, Merrill sees an opportunity to further his own interests; namely, selling the camera to a paranormal enthusiast for a great deal of money. He manages to switch out the camera for another of the same model, which Kevin destroys. Much to his dismay, however, Merrill cannot rid himself of the Sun as his customers either dismiss it as a fake or decline to purchase it due to the discomfort and unease they feel upon viewing the photographs. Furthermore, Merrill finds himself increasingly compelled to use the Sun – the dog slowly advancing and transforming into something more savage and monstrous with every picture he takes.
In the meantime, Kevin is plagued by recurring nightmares about the dog. Realizing that Merrill tricked him and the Sun was never destroyed, he sets out to prevent Merrill from taking any more pictures for fear that the dog will "break through" into the real world. By this point, the camera's influence over Merrill has caused him to lose his grip on sanity. After waking up one night to find himself holding the Sun and repeatedly pressing its trigger, Merrill resolves to smash it in the morning. However, he hallucinates that one of the cuckoo clocks hanging on the wall of his store is really the camera, and smashes the clock instead. Under the illusion that he's repairing a clock at his workbench, Merrill starts taking pictures again. At this moment, Kevin and his father arrive to confront Merrill, but they are too late to stop him. The dog tears its way out of the final photograph, killing Merrill in the process. Inspired by his nightmares, Kevin has brought another Sun with him, and just as the dog is about to release itself, he takes its picture, trapping it once more in the "Polaroid world".
In the epilogue, Kevin gets a computer for his following birthday. In order to test its word processor function, he types "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Rather than a printout of this text, the page reads, "The dog is loose again. It is not sleeping. It is not lazy. It's coming for you, Kevin. It's very hungry. And it's VERY angry."
Josh Rubins in Entertainment Weekly graded the anthology a "C+" and considered it formulaic with "enthusiasm" and contemporary setting. Rubins compared a novella "The Langoliers" to—quoting characters of the novella—a "stupid disaster [movie]" and a "bad [television] movie." He found "Secret Window, Secret Garden" bearably suspenseful with a "gimmicky, least convincing [finale]." He called "The Sun Dog" the "simplest, most distinctive story" and praised it as mostly "a delicious black comedy." Andy Solomon in The New York Times commented that King's mass appeal comes "ironically from his cliched diction," referring to the anthology's reliance on popular culture for descriptions.
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